COMMENTARY 764.1: Choosing Caring Over Judging (The Ethics of Giving to Panhandlers)

Every time my wife and I leave a Lakers game we’re confronted by half a dozen or more beggars with outreached cups. Usually we try to avoid eye contact and pass quickly – annoyed rather than moved. I’ve got lots of justifications for this callous indifference:

“It’s a scam.”

“Surely, these people have other options to begging.”

“They’ll probably use the money for drugs or alcohol.”

“How can I give to one or two and not all of them?”

“If I give tonight, will I have to give every other night?”

“If I give money, I’ll just encourage more people to be beggars.”

When all is said and done, it’s a rather shameful exhibition of my ungenerous nature. Regardless of their character or hidden motives, these people are much less fortunate than I am. Why am I so unwilling to help? A dollar or two would be meaningful; $5 or $10 would be momentous.

The truth is, if every night I gave each one a dollar or even five, it wouldn’t affect my lifestyle one bit. I spend more than that on snacks and parking. If I made it a point to carry a bunch of ones and fives, I could, without fanfare, provide a little bit of peace or pleasure to people who need it much more than I.

As I write this, I am resolved to choose caring over judging. Yet there is a lurking self-doubt: Will I really follow through or just find more reasons not to help? Perhaps some of you are also willing to commit to kindness. If so, we can provide moral support for each other. Let me know what you think.

After all, our character is revealed not by our best intentions, but by our consistent actions.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

For another good commentary, read The Ultimate Gift.

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